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The Director in the Classroom

How Filmmaking Inspires Learning

Nikos Theodosakis

. gets you up on your feet. the challenge for directors is to hold a clear picture in their minds of what they want to communicate and then to guide their crew towards that vision. can be transplanted for personal achievement in many fields.3 How Filmmaking Develops Higher Order Thinking Skills • 29 In this chapter. and constructing a plan to connect the two. It’s also about learning the process of looking at where you want to be. we look at some of the ways that filmmaking helps develop higher order thinking skills. as filmmakers telling stories. The goal of the filmmaking process and all involved is to put that vision on the screen. It can also lead into a discussion of what ‘vision’ itself is. When the idea becomes a script. and translating it into a plan of action. as teams of people following a common goal or as individuals pursuing a dream. The skill of working backwards from a goal. Regardless of the size of the film. whether it’s Ben Hur or My Science Experiment. but also what the vision does. Visioning Skills Filmmaking is about turning the intangible into the tangible. movies start with that wonderful thing called “the idea. It is practice in turning the intangible into the tangible. looking at where you are now. it is an opportunity for them to develop a vision of what they want to explore and to see how the vision changes or remains the same as they set out and make it happen. How it moves you into action. When students create a film. a vision of the final film begins to develop.” As the idea formulates in the mind of the filmmaker. The filmmaking process in the classroom invites a variety of skills to be explored and developed as the students journey from the creation of the original idea to the first presentation and beyond. makes you advance in order to crystallize what you have in your mind. It’s about exploring not only what the vision is.

The more she researches. directors and producers research story ideas that relate to the idea they are imagining. I also conduct research as I endeavor to become . knowing that key secrets can be revealed in the least likely of places. the target. the idea.30 • The Director in the Classroom It is important that students develop visioning skills for both their present and future worlds. But for them to realize the dream. The filmmaking process uses extensive research throughout. We need students to see how ideas can be transformed into action and how if they want to reach for something. Linda. My wife. As a director. interviewing caregivers who work with autistic adults. the more it informs her story. the writer will usually research as much material as they can find in order to get a better understanding of the context and content of the story. writers. Research When audiences go to see a film in the theatre. If we believe that students would benefit from this entrepreneurial approach to learning. The more facts and truths that she uncovers. and has arranged to work-shadow some of these caregivers and their clients. it begins with being able to articulate clearly the vision they hold in their minds to themselves and to others. One of the characters in her latest screenplay works with autistic adults. draw upon personal experiences and look to uncover information from anywhere they can. Films get made because a vision can be imagined. the better the possibility that the story will ring true to her audience. if they can dream it. They interview people. they can do it. then this is another benefit that filmmaking gives them. scan the Web. Linda has been researching autism on the Web. is a writer. clip magazine articles. In the formative stages. Once an idea is decided upon. articulated. they seldom realize how much research goes into the making of the movie. realized and shared. read books.

how to collect it and how to organize it—becomes another important skill developed by filmmaking. design elements. then familiarization with good research skills— knowing where to find things. There is an exhaustive amount of invisible research undertaken by almost all the members of the creative and production crew. He or she will investigate where to rent equipment. If we are to prepare students to make sense of all that information. As information exponentially explodes all around us. In addition. Because there is so much investigation embedded in the filmmaking process. Turning the vision in the creator’s mind into the finished movie on screen requires a seemingly endless journey into problem solving. who to ask. It could be that the actor you would like is not available. characters and many other components. the ability to effectively mine that information also increases. but also. colour. facilities and where to hire local cast and crew. I research story facts. it fosters the development of research skills as students prepare and produce their own videos. or possibly you were hoping for a sunny day but it . The production manager will research what resources are available at the location where the film is to be recorded. design and visual styles for his or her subject. filmmakers always come up against obstacles in filming. not only in terms of what do we want to show. Problem Solving Skills Filmmaking is problem solving.How Filmmaking Develops Higher Order Thinking Skills • 31 familiar with the story and setting of the project that I have undertaken. perhaps choosing to contrast harsh institutional lighting in some scenes with warm comforting tones in another. how we will show it. Regardless of budget. how to find things. vehicles. location characteristics. our cameraman (man or woman camera operator) might research lighting. themes.

I feel like I’m in the middle of a giant algebraic equation. The list. and to own the process for finding solutions. Logic Skills Sometimes when I am putting together a film. It may be that you do not have the equipment you need.32 • The Director in the Classroom “Some of these big American films get made in this very efficient way. IF it rains. to share limited resources. In other words. Or you may simply need more time. THEN we will shoot the interior scene in the cabin living room. because people are thinking about it and the detail becomes as important as the characters in the film. If this happens. It is then that these multiple. So many decisions in filmmaking are affected by so many other decisions. then this other thing has to happen. IF it is sunny. So the costumer is coming up with ideas for sets. a costumer comes in to do the costumes. There are so many decisions that are interwoven into so many other decisions in filmmaking. gets a storyboard artist to draw the thing up. we will shoot Scene 16 by the lake with all the actors and props required for that scene. equipment and other resources. six moves in the future. and it goes back and forth. You try to get the right team of people to feed it and then they feed you. But what the appearance of problems does is create a perpetual arena for problem-solving opportunities. I just try to break that down. It is like playing a game of chess and imagining the impact a move now will have. then that can happen. by trying to get everyone involved in doing everything on the film. if this does not happen. unfortunately. and the set designer might be coming up with an idea for the costumes. they learn to identify and solve their own problems. It could be that you do not have enough money for the budget you require. and to accommodate multiple objectives within limited time constraints. This decision-making process requires the development and utilization of good logical thinking skills.” Terry Gilliam is raining. and the films get made and they’re fine. and he hires a designer who designs it. . is endless. where a script is written by a scriptwriter and the director comes in and makes his comments. I think that’s why there’s so much detail. real world filmmaking challenges have become a great opportunity to experience real world problem solving. as students set out to create their films and discover obstacles of time. Since some of our greatest challenges in education today are to stretch already tight budgets. and they work in a system that works very well. You might not have access to the location you wish you could shoot at. there exists a great opportunity to take advantage of what these challenges offer.

production and editing. sets. A richly detailed tool called the Production Board and planning documents like the scene breakdowns (a dissection of each scene that lists what actors. The team meets with the other departments well before filming begins and examines the details of each of the production elements that are. or by actors. that process will occur. they start assembling a logical series of events and resources to make it all come together. A feature film is very rarely filmed in sequential order. location breakdowns (a list of where the filming will take place). Because the cost of actors. As they are asked to develop a strategy of planning. Once they have investigated what resources are required. or might be. Often these scenes are grouped by location. props and other key ingredients are required for each scene). the Production Department is a whole team of people on a film crew that is dedicated to planning. Regardless of whether this process is articulated on paper. In fact. or by equipment availability. cast day out of days (a list of when .How Filmmaking Develops Higher Order Thinking Skills • 33 In the classroom the process of filmmaking requires students to imagine what they will need to make their movie. Planning Skills Again. a great deal of time is spent planning when and how those elements can best be used. required. or simply considered in their minds. equipment and resources is so expensive. This is because time. they then create a plan for its realization. money and other resources can be better utilized if similar scenes are shot at the same time. organizing and scheduling. Estimating how long things will take and how they will get done is extremely important to the filmmaker. one of the invisible skills that ties the filmmaking process together and allows movies to be created is the critical skill of planning and time management.

It is about ‘filtering’ information on your feet. we will look at them in more detail and see how they might be used in the classroom. It is about looking at all the information and deciding what should be included and what should be left out. In the next part of this book. and all the new information that I am receiving from the actors. Filmmaking in the classroom allows students to explore their own planning and time management skills. . my role is to take in all the information about the scene that I have researched.34 • The Director in the Classroom the actors work each day) and other planning documents are used by the production team to detail the requirements of each of the scenes. Analytical Skills Another skill which is invisible to the movie audience. the feedback is immediate. As a director. If the students’ attempt at scheduling did not meet their expectations. This can lead into an exploration of what they would do differently on the next day of shooting or on the next project. both in terms of managing their own time and resources. it is. the experiences students learn in time management and planning will benefit them for all their lives. but which is essential to the filmmaker. for example their crew. is the ability to critically analyze information. of course. or experimented with. and analyze it against my vision for that particular scene. how do we learn from that and change how we estimate and plan our time? As with all the skills. If things took longer than they thought (a common occurrence in both professional and student filmmaking). as well as those of the whole group. intended that the students’ understanding and abilities transcend video production and become useful across their whole learning and living experience. the crew or the location. The results of poor or good time management can be examined and used as another learning tool in this process. when I am standing on a film set. Since planning is a critical component of filmmaking and also a critical life skill.

Because students must analyze information in order to produce their individual videos. As long as we continue to be overloaded with information and continual decision making. I will look at multiple takes of the same shots. “I feel. publicists.” Joel Schumacher . the development of analytical processes will be an important survival skill for students. and represented in accordance with their points of view. Although there is a lot of information on the Internet. and decide. it is best turned into knowledge by students when it is gathered. agents. in books. a lot of times. And on that field. and multiple shots of the same scene. like I’m a football player and the football is the movie. journalists—I’m just trying to get the ball past the goal line and into the stands to the audience. which film footage best illustrates what I am trying to communicate and what I want to explore. in libraries. Sometimes it’s very pleasant.How Filmmaking Develops Higher Order Thinking Skills • 35 Later. with all those people running interference to me—studio executives. we create opportunities to exercise this critical skill. during the editing process. managers. sometimes it’s an obstacle course. after I look at all of this information. critics. in magazines and in conversation with the people all around us. analyzed.